2013 Ford Focus 4-Door Sedan — Avis Rental Car — Review

© 2014 Peter Free


29 April 2014



Decent car ruined by lurching drive train


Why Avis bought these 2013 Ford Focuses is beyond me.


They are so awful to drive that an Avis representative afterward told us that a string of people brought them back, claiming that there was something seriously wrong with each.



Test conditions


Five days and a few hundred miles in Nashville, Tennessee.


Two drivers and two separate fuel sources.


The car started with approximately 28,000 miles on its odometer.



Defining negative — lousy driveability


The drivetrain on the 2013 Ford Focus sedan seems to have been designed to maximize fuel economy at the expense of every (sane) thing else.


For example, apparently as a result of shifting up too quickly, combined with an apparently fuel starved engine, the drivetrain chatters going around corners at slow speeds.  This chatter is similar to driving a manual transmission with patches of oil on a misaligned clutch plate.


Even in a straight line, it is virtually impossible to get the Focus sedan to accelerate in a smooth and linear fashion.  Starting from a stop, or going up a modest hill, the drivetrain is in too high a gear for the amount of fuel the system delivers.   Starts are slow and lugging.  Once underway, the drivetrain abruptly transitions into becoming too full throttled.


Once the high-revving engine attains its power band, the car takes off like an econo-rocket.  As a result, he driver is constantly having to flog the engine to get the Focus moving smoothly, but then has to back off abruptly to keep the vehicle from roaring past the speed limit.  Transmission shifts are clunky.



Using low gear does not help


Ford put a low gear detent on the shifter, apparently acknowledging that the Focus has poor low end torque, given its fuel-starved implementation.  Unfortunately, this detent has no lockout, so it is easy to pull the shifter back past the Drive detent and into Low, without recognizing the mistake until the thrashy engine peaks in protest.


I had assumed that I could overcome the car’s boggy starts by selecting Low and then shifting into Drive.  But this doesn’t work any more smoothly than leaving it in Drive.


All told, Ford has managed to produce the most annoying combination of acceleration characteristics that I’ve experienced in the 45 cars I’ve owned and the many I’ve rented.



What the Avis representative had to say about Avis’ reported conversation with Ford Motor Company


The Avis representative told me that the company contacted Ford and were told that the Focus had been designed to maximize fuel economy.  The car allegedly is intentionally starved of fuel at idle and slow urban speeds.


I certainly noticed that the vehicle upshifts far too quickly for sensible driving.  On urban streets, it is almost always in too high a qear for prompt accelerations.  I suspect that the fuel starved idle and balky transmission/differential is responsible for the chattering both test drivers experienced, while going around low speed corners or starting up hills.



What the Focus sedan does well


Once in its power band at freeway speeds, the Focus accelerates well.


The car also handles capably.  The suspension is tight and the Focus quickly goes where it is pointed.  Some of this quickness comes at the expense of a slight twitchiness in the steering, which requires that the driver pay more attention to straight line driving than a vehicle designed as a highway cruiser would.


Seats are reasonably comfortable, and the trunk is big enough for two or three reasonably sized suitcases.  But be aware that wide suitcases will have to slide into the trunk opening while flat and only afterward can one rotate them to on edge placements.



Our negative experience with the Focus is not an isolated one


Pittsburgh reporter Paul Van Osdol wrote:



Their new cars shudder, jerk and slip out of gear.  And they say they cannot get the problem fixed. 


A Channel 4 Action News investigation found hundreds of people around the country saying transmissions on some recent-model Ford sedans are a safety concern.


WTAE checked court records and found 36 lawsuits filed in just the past seven months, alleging defective transmissions on the Focus or the Fiesta. And this is just in Allegheny County.


Attorney Zachary Kappel's firm, Kimmel & Silverman, has filed more than 100 lemon law suits about Ford transmissions on behalf of clients in Pennsylvania . . . .


Court records reveal many of those concerns . . . . Complaints include a shaking or grinding noise; the vehicle hesitating and vibrating; a noise in the transmission; and the transmission not shifting properly.


“Banging, jumping, slipping, skipping and it's become an issue that's now affected the drivability and safety of the vehicles,” Kappel said.


Hundreds of complaints about the Ford transmissions have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some cases involved crashes.


© 2014 Paul Van Osdol, Investigation finds hundreds of complaints about Ford transmissions, WTAE.com [Pittsburgh] (06 February 2014) (extracts)



Not recommended


This is one car that I will not rent again.  Its drivetrain problems are both annoying and a safety concern.


Given the obtuseness Ford displayed in apparently sacrificing automotive common sense to maximizing fuel economy, I have my doubts about buying another Ford product.